April 3rd, 1888 – Brutal Murder in Whitechapel!

April 3rd, 1888 marked the first of eleven unsolved brutal murders of women committed in or near the impoverished Whitechapel district in the East End of London.

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In the late Victorian era, Whitechapel was considered to be the most notorious criminal rookery in London. The area around Flower and Dean Street was described as “perhaps the foulest and most dangerous street in the whole metropolis”; Dorset Street was called “the worst street in London.” Assistant Police Commissioner Robert Anderson recommended Whitechapel to “those who take an interest in the dangerous classes” as one of London’s prime criminal “show places.” Robbery and violence were commonplace. The district was characterized by extreme poverty, sub-standard housing, homelessness, drunkenness and endemic prostitution. These factors were focused in the institution of the common lodging-house, which provided cheap communal lodgings for the desperate and the destitute, among whom the Whitechapel murder victims were numbered. All the identified victims lived in the heart of the rookery in Spitalfields, including three in George Street (later named Lolesworth Street), two in Dorset Street, two in Flower and Dean Street and one in Thrawl Street.

Whitechapel_High_Street_1905Police work and criminal prosecutions relied heavily on confessions, witness testimony, and apprehending perpetrators in the act of committing an offence or in the possession of obvious physical evidence that clearly linked them to a crime. Forensic techniques, such as fingerprint analysis, were not in use. Policing in London was—and still is—divided between two forces: the Metropolitan Police with jurisdiction over most of the urban area, and the City of London Police with jurisdiction over about a square mile (2.9 km2) of the city centre. The Home Secretary, a senior minister of the United Kingdom government, controlled the Metropolitan Police, whereas the City Police were responsible to the Corporation of London. Beat constables walked regular, timed routes.

The Whitechapel murders were committed in or near the impoverished Whitechapel district in the East End of London between April 3rd, 1888 and February 13th 1891. At various points some or all of these eleven unsolved murders of women have been ascribed to the notorious unidentified serial killer known as Jack the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper 2

Most, if not all, of the victims—Emma Elizabeth Smith, Martha Tabram, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, Mary Jane Kelly, Rose Mylett, Alice McKenzie, Frances Coles, and an unidentified woman—were prostitutes. Smith was sexually assaulted and robbed by a gang. Tabram was stabbed 39 times. Nichols, Chapman, Stride, Eddowes, Kelly, McKenzie and Coles had their throats cut. Eddowes and Stride were killed on the same night, minutes and less than a mile apart; their murders were nicknamed the “double event”, after a phrase in a postcard sent to the press by someone claiming to be the Ripper. The bodies of Nichols, Chapman, Eddowes and Kelly had abdominal mutilations. Mylett was strangled. The body of the unidentified woman was dismembered, but the exact cause of her death is unclear.

The Metropolitan Police, City of London Police, and private organizations such as the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee were involved in the search for the killer or killers. Despite extensive inquiries and several arrests, the culprit or culprits evaded identification and capture. The murders drew attention to the poor living conditions in the East End slums, which were subsequently improved. The enduring mystery of who committed the crimes has captured public imagination to the present day.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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